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05 • 22 • 2020

Allow Ocean Rec Access When & Where It’s Safe

The New Hampshire Chapter worked with our Northeast Regional Manager to encourage the allowance of all ocean and coastal recreation that can be enjoyed while moving in phase one of the Governor’s Economic Reopening plan.

June 11 Update:

While the initial campaign win was acheived on May 22, the policy work here continues! 

Phase 2 beaches reopening plan was released on June 10.

While the requirement for activity to be transitory was removed by the Governor on June 5, there are no substantive improvements to the parking access that would restore a percent of the free, on-street parking to provide better access for financially challenged families.

During the public comment session on June 11 from 1-3pm, we asked for the Task Force to recommend restoring a percent of this free parking in phase 2.

Call-in: 1-800-356-8278
Pin: 194499
To request to speak, press 5* after you're accepted into the call

If you missed the call and would like to submit written comments, the email is nhreopen@nheconomy.com (please cc us so we can help keep track of emails sent in on this topic: mgates@surfrider.org)!

To learn more about asks we will be making pursuant to rescinding the ban on reusable bags, check out our Facebook post.

Click here to read our official comment letter.

Thank you!

MAY 30 MEDIA RELEASE: The Beaches are Reopening June 1!

The Surfrider Foundation New Hampshire Chapter issued a letter to Governor Sununu today, thanking him for his approval of the seacoast beaches reopening plan that will be implemented beginning June 1, 2020. 

“While phase 1 street parking restrictions are more extensive than we would have recommended,” said Rebecca Raum O'Brien, volunteer chair of the Surfrider Foundation New Hampshire Chapter, “we appreciate and respect the need for local officials to have capacity to limit crowds and enforce current orders.”

O'Brien noted that Surfrider successfully advocated for phase 1 of the plan to allow more activities than walking, jogging and swimming as originally proposed. “The Governor's task force listened, and the approved phase 1 plan allows all forms of transitory ocean and coastal recreation.”

The preamble of the State's reopening plan notes that current access restrictions are temporary and specific to CoVID-19 pandemic emergency response, which Surfrider asserts is vital to properly promote public understanding of the plan and relay that access restrictions are temporary and deemed important to safely reopen beaches at this time.

“Protecting public health is and should remain our top priority in this uncertain time,” said Melissa Gates, Northeast Regional Manager for the Surfrider Foundation. “People need to follow the rules so we can maintain and advance access safely.” 

Surfrider noted they are continuing to participate in the public process for seacoast beach reopening, driving equity and accessibility for all people as the task force begins to take up planning for phase 2. These elements were components of a report issued by a Surfrider assembled expert panel.

Surfrider asserts that the expansive phase 1 street parking restrictions will likely help restrict crowds but will do so at the cost of disproportionately impacting financially challenged individuals and in some instances, people who are not residents of a seacoast town. Historically, streets have provided valuable free parking spaces for beach goers.

The Surfrider Foundation New Hampshire Chapter is urging consideration of equitably lifting restrictions on free street parking in phase 2 to address these concerns.

“Hampton Chamber President Nyhan has been doing an excellent job leading this effort,” Gates concluded. “Given how they approached phase 1 we are confident that he and State Parks Director Bryce, along with leaders from the seacoast towns, will responsively address these access concerns in their recommendations to the Governor for phase 2 of the seacoast beaches reopening plan.”

May 22 Victory Update & Next Steps

Good news! On May 22, Governor Sununu announced that phase 1 of the Seacoast Beaches Reopening plan will be implemented on June 1, 2020!

Thanks to YOU, permitted phase 1 activity will include ALL forms of ocean and coastal recreation that meet the rules, and not just walking, jogging and swimming! This was the goal of our campaign. Thanks for your help achieving a win!

We also helped inspire the explicit addition of ADA compliance. Nice work, New Hampshire!

Recreation in phase 1 must be transitory, groups are limited to 10ppl, and there are significant parking access restrictions in some areas. Parking restrictions were framed as necessary in phase 1 to limit overcrowding, encourage people to stay near to home, and allow for adherence to physical distancing.

We understand that the current public health crisis demands concessions from all of us across the board to best protect public health. We will be working hard to best ensure that phase 2 of the seacoast beaches reopening plan restores access for ALL people and more activities if public health indicators safely warrant that.

We will also work hard to ensure that ‘locals only’ never becomes a default management mechanism for beaches. We will monitor the situation carefully and demand accountability in every instance where this public access limiting tool is leveraged without viable justification consistent with public health needs specific to COVID-19 response.

Stay tuned for ways YOU can engage with us to help engage in the public process to develop the next phases of reopening.

RECENT EVENTS

May 14 press statements made by the Governor indicated that he was keen to wait to see how beach reopening plays out in other neighboring states before making a move in New Hampshire, and that because it snowed in May people are not interested in being at the beach.

Fortunately, however, positive public comments poured in (thank you!) helping inform decision-makers about year-round use of the seacoast and the BIG desire to reopen access as quickly as safely possible.

The Governor then responded to the initial draft plan rendered out of the Task Force on May 14 by requesting that the Task Force present a unified beaches reopening plan with all 5 coastal towns signing in agreement.

The unified 5 town plan was voted unanimously out of the Task Force on May 21.

While phase 1 parking restrictions are much more vast than we'd like to see and will limit access for financially and mobility challenged individuals as well as non-residents, the plan starts off with an opening statement speaking to its temporal nature and qualifies the need for these restrictions in order to meet public health protocols for physical distancing, encouraging people to stay near to home and crowd control at this time. This is consistent with the recommendations provided by the Surfrider-assembled expert task force.

The plan requires weekly review by all parties, which should help with making improvements or - and we hope this will not happen - further restrictions if current public health needs demand it or if physical distancing rules cannot be met or are flagrantly ignored under the current guidelines.

We will advocate for people to follow the rules, and for phase 2 to be developed as soon as possible so we know what to expect, and when. In phase 2, we will advocate for recommendations to include much more broad access that restores some on-road parking for non-residents and allows for stationary beach activity that is equitable to other forms of phase 2 allowable outdoor activity inland.

Stay tuned to this page for opportunities to engage in the public process to help shape the next phases of beach reopening.

Thank you!

OUR LAST CALL TO ACTION

We encouraged beach goers to submit comments + call Governor Sununu ASAP once the May 14 Seacoast Beaches Reopening Plan was before him for consideration

We urged you to join us in framing any comments constructively as opportunities to help inform how beaches reopen. We're not fighting anything at this point, rather, we are advocating for best practices that will help New Hampshire reopen seacoast beaches as quickly and equitably as is safely possible. THANK YOU for joining us to take action! 

Here's what we asked + many supplied:

WRITE: To submit written comments, email the Governor and his public health advisors (nhreopen@nheconomy.com, governorsununu@nh.gov—and CC us so we can help track how many people take action: mgates@surfrider.org).

CALL: Call the Governor and leave your supportive + positive message affirming that reopening seacoast beaches by June 1 is a solid plan that is consistent with other outdoor recreation reopening plans, neighboring states, and the majority of leading experts across sectors of public health, tourism, business, and Parks: (603) 271-2121 (press 2 to leave a message if calling when the office is closed).

Tips for Comments:

  • Address comments to Governor Sununu and Public Health Expert Advisors

  • Extend gratitude for the inclusive and thorough work of the Hampton and Governor's Task Forces, and recognize the immense time, energy and expertise exerted by those task forces as well as public health experts and the Governor, working across all economic sectors to reopen New Hampshire's economy

  • Ask that Seacoast beaches be opened as quickly and equitably as is safely possible. Voice support for the Hampton Task Force's recommendation of reopening no later than June 1 to sync with Maine's established state beaches reopening timeline. Maine town beaches are already reopening, and the state beaches will reopen on or before June 1

  • Aligning reopening timelines with neighboring states will help encourage beach goers to stay near to home and spread beach going out along the region, rather than encouraging people to flock to the only open beaches. This will be even more effective if the Massachusetts reopening plan, which will be published on Monday, May 18, calls for reopening parking access at their state beaches, as is anticipated

  • Express that the draft plan establishes smart safety protocols to limit crowding by limiting parking access to 50% of allowable spaces, and to encourage physical distancing to best protect public health

  • Let decision makers know that beach access is important to you all year round, and not just in the heat of the summer

  • With deference to the public health emergency and understanding and appreciation for the established rules and their intents, describe what it has meant to be prohibited from visiting the ocean beaches, and what it would mean to you in this uncertain time to be able to walk along our beaches, surf and breathe in the salty air once again

  • Beachgoing is not only an integral feeder into our ocean economy, it's also a vital component of mental and physical well-being

  • Praise the recommendation in the draft plan to include ALL ocean and coastal recreation that can be enjoyed while moving in phase 1; ask for accessibility consideration to be given for mobility and financially challenged individuals

  • Affirm that the recommended beach reopening plan is consistent and equitable with other currently permitted outdoor recreation under the Governor's Universal Guidance document

  • Assuming the Stay At Home order 2.0 will expire at the end of May as currently planned, ask for consideration of clarifying how many people may gather for permitted activities in phase 1 to best encourage beachgoers to follow any newly established physical distancing rules

  • Thank the Governor for his time and consideration

Reopening safely is key, and the draft plan presented is a fair plan that can advanced with caution.

Thanks to all who took these actions! 

HISTORIC ACCOUNT:

The State of New Hampshire is developing plans to reopen certain businesses and natural resource sites following the global COVID-19 pandemic stay at home order, which forced the closure of many businesses, parks and beaches to help prevent the spread of the virus. 

Governor Sununu’s Economic Re-Opening Task Force released its draft plan on April 27, 2020. Section 4 of the draft speaks to seacoast beaches:

  • 4. Seacoast Beaches

  • a. Limit available parking by 50% for all state, town, and private lots at the seacoast.

  • i. Parking at state lots by online reservation only

  • ii. Allow for reserving block of time during the day (average meter transaction is two hours).

  • b. Beach activities permitted

  • i. Option1: Transitory movement only is permitted on the beach – walk, jog, and swimming. No sunbathing or group activities. No chairs, sunbathing towels, coolers, grills, or umbrellas on beach.

  • ii. Option 2: Allow restricted sitting on the beach.

  • 1. Identify specific locations

  • 2. Reserve a spot similar to picnic tables for inland beaches

  • c. Seacoast Beach Restrooms

  • i. Institute controls to address entry: Leave doors open, mirrors at entry, limit number of sinks in use, one-way traffic into building, use counters and displays outside door when limit reached.

  • ii. 6+ ft. delineation in line 

On April 30, 2020, our Northeast Regional Manager offered public comments on the draft plan during a public meeting conference call held by the task force, and submitted an official comment letter with the Chapter.

To help law enforcement officers implement the rules and beach users to understand and follow the rules, we called for clarification in permitted activities and made the case for support of any transient, solitary ocean and coastal recreation activity be included as permitted. 

We additionally called for broadening of accessibility in section a(i) to provide a method of reserving parking spots that does not require internet access or skill, such as a phone line, which should be given equal weight on the first come, first served reservation list. 

On May 1, the Task Force committed to scheduling at least one public comment call per week. 

Later in the day at the Governor's press conference on May 1, Governor Sununu announced that the State's Stay At Home Order 2.0 calls for the state's beaches to remain closed.

On May 7, a new draft reopening plan for Hampton Beach was sent to the Task Force for consideration (we will link to the Plan here when it is published).

On May 8, our Northeast Regional Manager and multiple Chapter leaders, members and supporters called in to offer spoken comments in what may be the final public hearing to help influence the State's seacoast beaches reopening plan. 

As all State beaches need to open at the same time, approving the Hampton Plan would be inclusive of all state beaches, with some parking protocol anomalies between beaches.

The Hampton Plan does away with parking by reservation while noting that this protocol is still under consideration for other State beaches. 

Importantly, the Hampton Plan adds that, “ASAP open the sand for transitory physical activity including but not limited to walking, running, swimming, surfing, kayaking and paddle boarding.” Such activity would be limited to spatial areas and time constraints in sync to where it was lawfully allowed prior to COVID-19 closures. 

While “not later than June 1” was listed as the target date, in part to accommodate staffing needs for State Parks during a hiring freeze rather than any public safety concerns, we asked for consideration of opening sooner with limited amenities. Temporarily waiving parking fees, keeping facilities closed, erecting signage to 'recreate at your own risk as no lifeguards are on duty,' and instituting a “pack in, pack out” protocol for trash, should dramatically limit staff needs while enabling seacoast beaches to open now, phasing back into paid parking and increased amenities when hiring is allowed and staffing is in place, hopefully by June 1. 

Along with restricting available parking by 50% and the local policing for enforcement of physical distancing and other rules, these measures would provide important beach access while helping ensure beach goers can stay safe while getting exercise at the beach. 

The Governor then lifted the hiring freeze for State Parks, alleviating the staffing concern, but officials felt more time was needed to adequately prepare authorities for enforcement and develop parking protocols.

To encourage physical distancing for pedestrian traffic along the main business corridor of Hampton Beach, the Hampton Plan also calls for Ocean Boulevard to be closed to vehicular traffic between A to O Streets, and for Ashworth Avenue to become two-way between A and O Streets. 

The Hampton Plan also sets a future goal of implementing phase 2 of seacoast beaches reopening by July 4, although it is unclear in the Plan if the Governor's committee of medical experts has set key indicators for when broadening beach access might be safe to implement. 

The Hampton Board of Selectmen voted to adopt the beach reopening plan on May 13, 2020, supported by comments from the Surfrider NH Chapter and many additional surfers and beach goers. 

On May 14, 2020, a friendly amendment was made to strike the targeted June 1 timeline, allegedly due to the purview of the Task Force being relegated to guidance and not timelines. After some debate, the Governor's Economic Reopening Task Force adopted the amendment and voted unanimously to pass the plan onward to the Public Health Committee and the Governor for their consideration and final decision. Hampton Chamber President Nyan noted that he would generate a secondary letter to the Governor articulating the June 1 target date for reopening as vital.

It was noted that comments sent to the Task Force email regarding this plan will now be forwarded to the Governor and the Committee on Public Health for their consideration.

Recent press statements by Governor Sununu seem to indicate that he is not aware how important beach access is all year round, not only in the summer. Further, he indicated interest in a “wait and see” approach for seacoast beaches to see how Maine's June 1 state beach reopening and the yet to be determined date for lifting parking ban at Massachusetts State beaches.

Check back to the task force website for more info.

It is important to keep in mind that even after approval, this plan is only phase one and is iterative by nature, and subject to change if it is not working. This means that we must each do our part to shape the plan now, and then to follow and share the rules.

Give a shout for more talking points and/or to engage with the Chapter on this or other access campaigns!

Our CEO, Chad Nelsen, published a blog on this topic recently, which provides good fodder for comments - including the need for beach users to stay local and stay safe.

Beach Access